Thursday, December 31, 2020

Adieu Sam Nda-Isaiah

“I am always saddened by the death of a good person. It is from this sadness that a feeling of gratitude emerges. I feel honoured to have known them and blessed that their passing serves as a reminder to me that my time on this beautiful earth is limited and that I should seize the opportunity I have to forgive, share, explore, and love. I can think of no greater way to honor the deceased than to live this way.”

― Steve Maraboli

I have written numberless eulogiums about the loss of people dear to me but this is the first in honour of a Christian friend, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, the late Chairman of LEADERSHIP Group, who passed on recently.

At a time, LEADERSHIP was the only Nigerian newspaper that designated four pages for Islam; no other newspaper has done that to date, not even those referred to as 'Muslim newspapers'. I started writing for LEADERSHIP a few weeks after the paper went daily in 2005 through the instrumentation of the then Special Projects Editor, Mr Abdulmumin Balogun. Thus, I have tarried long enough in LEADERSHIP to write about my personal experience with Oga Sam and what I have gathered from people in his employ about the nature and disposition of that personage.   

Sam was a good Christian who was not known for the vices common among people of his status. He was a strict teetotaller, had no place for tobacco in any of its forms and had no space for infidelity. He was famously proud of and protective towards his faith. He may not have wanted to be a Muslim, but he showed every sign of wanting to be at peace with Muslims, by all means, and did not desire his newspaper to be branded as a Christian or anti-Islam media outlet. I wrote a three-part series in 2012 captioned 2012 Democracy Day Church Service in which I analysed the paper of the guest speaker Archbishop Peter Akinola which he delivered at the National Christian Centre, Abuja. In the first part, I gave credit to the Archbishop for his frankness on the issue of corruption as addressed by his speech. It was after publishing the second part of the series that trouble started. In it, I drew the attention of readers to the ‘inflammatory and inciting’ aspect of Archbishop Akinola’s ‘presentation which was full of historical incongruities and erroneous interpretation of facts.’ I posited that ‘It is only a Christian evangelist that can speak so openly in the presence of the custodians of security in Nigeria which included the Commander-in-Chief himself, distorting history, preaching hate and goading Christians against Muslims without the press calling for his arrest, or his establishment expelling him. If any imam were to speak thus he would have been stopped, accused ‘of inciting people against the government’ (as happened to me at the National Mosque same time last year, but for the intervention of His Eminence, the Sultan), and subsequently removed from his position. Many were the imams that have been so expelled in not a few Northern states for speaking against injustice, corruption and electoral malpractices during the 2011 elections.’

When the third part of the series was sent LEADERSHIP did not publish it. I asked the editor who told me that the instruction to drop the page came from the Chairman. I called Mr Nda-Isaiah straightaway and he picked my call. ‘Mr Chairman,’ I said, ‘you must have a very strong reason to direct that my article be dropped last Friday, but please I want to know why.’ I reminded him of the fact that I write gratis for LEADERSHIP and if the paper does not appreciate that sacrifice, I, at least, expected a little more courtesy in the way the article was treated. He listened to me until I finished then he said, ‘Ustaz, I have read the first part of your piece. It was okay, but after the second part which I have not read, a Christian association complained about it and requested the stoppage of the series. I am now in Lagos for a meeting. I will, however, constitute a committee of three - two Christians, one Muslim - to look at the piece and advise me. I’ll get back to you.’

The committee of three finished its assignment and true to his words, the Chairman called later and said, ‘Ustaz, the article will be carried next week. The committee saw no reason to drop it.’ He went further to say that he was under the same unfair scrutiny by the Christian association on a piece he wrote concerning ‘Arewa and Muslims.’ ‘They said,’ he lamented, ‘that I am projecting the image of Islam and Muslims. What kind of nonsense is this?’ He asked. I was impressed by his fair approach to the issue. I am still impressed by the respect he accorded me and my opinion. 

I was later to learn that whatever it was that made him disagree or angry with you, whatever the quarrel was, the very moment you stepped into his presence and said you wanted to speak with him, you had a new slate; no judgment was made based on past trespasses. The merit of the new idea or discussion was what mattered. That he bore no malice towards people, including his workers, showed the high quality of breeding in him.  

He was quite proud of his achievements but not exultant; this is natural and normal for one who did not expect to achieve so much, so soon. 

Some people, even in the northern establishments may not have had a soft spot for late Mr Nda-Isaiah because they did not like the fact that he was a moving repository of secrets concerning their personal and official activities. But what he stood for in respect of patriotism and belief in Nigeria gobbled up any ill feelings from naysayers. 

One thing that God bestowed him with, unknown to most people, was that his quality of reasoning was decades ahead of his age. Whenever there was an issue concerning which some leaders had taken a position, Mr Nda-Isaiah always made them recant to a more balanced position by telling them the implications of their stand and how that would affect the country. Politicians and technocrats soon realised that he knew more than they gave him credit for.  

Many who tasted his harsher side chose to see more of his dark sides than the bright ones. For example, very few people knew about the orphanage that the late Chairman of the LEADERSHIP Group supported on a monthly basis. He never discussed this with anyone; whoever came to know about this, that information came to them by mistake or on a need-to-know basis: like the accountant preparing the salary schedule or the curious auditor that checks the payroll for oddities. When LEADERSHIP had plenteous crops before these lean, hard years, I learnt he could almost bring down the house if there was any delay in the disbursement of salaries. ‘There are families that are feeding from here;’ he would emphasise, ‘I will not allow one employee who represents only one family to mess up the future and livelihood of more than three hundred families!’ Thus, salaries, every accountant was admonished then, must be paid as and when due, by the 25th of every month, and may God help the payroll manager that would forget the orphanage, from the wrath of the Chairman. 

I also came to know that the late Mr Nda-Isaiah never, ever tolerated a mistake from himself. He loved good prose and was a writer I loved to read. His entire day, I learnt, could be darkened if he committed any mistake in his writing. That was why only one senior editor could touch the content of what he had written without an argument ensuing. He was known to be thorough to a fault: an unusual but sparkling quality in our society. 

All accounts of him mentioned his love for white apparel.  He had a simple reason for that - ‘..if there is a stain, you can see it from a distance.’ He was squeaky clean and never liked a speck of dirt. His workers and visitors were many times forced to take a second look at themselves before they appeared in his presence. He was a lover of cleanliness and tidiness. This was also reflected in the organisation of his ideas in the articles he wrote in Last Word, the rested Monday column in his newspaper. 

A staff member told me that he travelled with the Chairman by road to Gombe and when they reached Jos they stopped by the women roasting masara (corn) at the Ring Road. ‘How much is masara.’ The staff asked, wanting to start bargaining the price. ‘No, no, my friend,’ said the Chairman, ‘you don’t do that. These women barely manage to eke out a living. Feel for them because they have chosen a good name over and above selling their bodies. She said her masara is N100; just pay her her price for each. Even if you feel you are overpaying, just  know that you are blessing her.’ That was how he operated; whatever he bought from the struggling members of the society: bananas, peanuts or other things, he paid the exact amount mentioned by the seller wordlessly, in order to encourage them in their struggle.  But he never bribed a policeman, however much a case was presented. If, however, the personnel stopped him and said, ‘sir, we are suffering. Please give us something with which we can eat,’ he would oblige. But if the officer tried to arm-twist him, the case would become an attempt to wake the dragon. It would surprise many that the late Sam Nda-Isaiah's writings, several years ago, regarding better pay for the Nigeria Police and reforms of the force were major points in the demands of the genuine leaders of the recent EndSARS protests. 

The above trip happened during the period of petroleum scarcity. On their return journey to Abuja, they needed to refuel the car. The member of staff with him went to speak to the fuel attendant to help them get fuel. When he came back, the late chairman asked him what he did. He said he was trying to hasten the refuelling. ‘Don’t do that again please, the people on the queue are human beings like us. We will be on the queue until it is our turn.’ And so it was that they spent over almost two hours in a queue, to refuel and head for Abuja, after refusing 'approvals' to overtake others to the fuel pump. 

Another member of staff who served as a page planner (including for this page) told me (by sending the screenshots of the chats) that he once had a health challenge, sent a WhatsApp message to the late Chairman, in which he explained his condition and what he needed for the trip and medical expenses. It was an ample amount of money. ‘Send me your account details’ was the response he received. A short while later the entire amount was paid into the staff member's account - no questions asked; not even an attempt to verify the veracity or otherwise of the claim.

Those people who erroneously thought that Sam Nda-Isaiah was hardhearted would be surprised to learn that Sam, as I learnt, would often kneel down, close his eyes and pray God for the success, wellbeing and prosperity of his employees, calling the names of those in any form of distress one after another and beseeching God to alleviate their worries. These good qualities, many could not have seen or heard about.

As a newbie in publishing he believed in the maxim: break all rules; you don’t have to conform to the norm. He was the first to break the news of an anti-constitutional third term plot by a former president. He was the first to publish the pictures of members of the National Assembly that backed the plot and was the first to mathematically represent warped electoral manipulations of calculations of two-thirds majority requirements for a consensus. There were a lot of criticisms, of course, but he did set the pace and redefine 'norms' with his newspaper's editorial style, commentaries, perspectives and his column. 

Up until his demise, he was working. He would call a staff member by 2 am to make an inquiry about some assignments he gave, ‘Are you sleeping?’ If the staff said, ‘Yes sir.’ the Chairman’s answer would be, ‘You are not cut out for great things!’ That was his standard on himself and he expected every other person to be living to it. He would leave the office late, attend one or two meetings that normally stretched into the night and arrive home in the a.m only to work or read in his state-of-the-art library late into the early morning; he would still be in the office before noon, clutching a to-do list which would be attended to, item by item. He believed very much in God, believed in prayer, and believed in work. He did not lie down, waiting for miracles. He chased his dreams with sure steps. 

He craved for perfection and worked to attain it by all means necessary and whoever showed any tardiness on the road to efficiency and perfection was openly rebuked or shown the way out. Many that were sacked from his employ, of course, did not like both the way they were treated on the work and how it was terminated but some of them later confessed to the weaknesses they perceived in themselves, which the late Chairman identified, in their new places of service and through the people that manage them. Oftentimes, your worst critic is the one that really loves you because he causes you to grow and be a better person. The late Mr Nda-Isaiah was the unappreciated, worst critic Nigerian leaders and some of his workers didn't appreciate until his demise. 

My prayer is for the LEADERSHIP, through which the Chairman has moulded many people, through which he has catered for numerous families, to survive and thrive.  


His demise was a very concerning and painful incident if you put to account the hundreds of people in his employ and their families. I do not mean that their sustenance came from him; God it was that gave them their sustenance and He shall continue to give them. But the responsibility of running LEADERSHIP is an exceptionally big one. My concern is the direction for LEADERSHIP at this moment in time. In establishments of this nature, the owner of the big idea has certain reaches that most people do not have. The reach that the late Sam Nda-Isaiah had opened doors for the organisation. Now that he is gone the responsibility of keeping the newspaper empire he built has just become bigger. Everyone who remembers that the late, altruistic publisher of LEADERSHIP; LEADERSHIP Friday; LEADERSHIP Weekend; LEADERSHIP Sunday; LEADERSHIP Hausa and National Economy, empowered hundreds of people and made leaders out of young men and women, should pray for and support the publications he created. He was an example of the can-do spirit we need in our individual and corporate lives. 

The late Sam Nda-Isaiah supported many widows and orphans. The families of many of his friends that departed this world before him were subjects of concern to him and he helped them financially and with employment, on their merit. Some of these families will be more hard hit by his demise than we can imagine. And now, his own children have also become orphans who need our prayers too.

May his legacies live on and may his immediate and larger family - which includes all people who desire a better Nigeria, have the fortitude to bear his loss. He was my friend, your friend and Nigeria's friend. We should remember this fact. Adieu Sam Nda-Isaiah, adieu!